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mHealth is Data Collection

Submitted by on September 23, 2010 – 10:47 am8 Comments
ibm employee collecting data

photo: IMLS DCC

After reading and reading, it seems that the mHealth phenomenon can really be broken down into two parts: data collection and data distribution. Put plainly, any value derived from mHealth lies in the data being collected from patients and distributed throughout the health care system. You may not believe me, but let’s suppose that we can oversimplify this emerging market for the length of this blog post, in order to explore the nuances surrounding it.

mHealth data collection and data distribution… it’s complicated

What makes mHealth so interesting, is the fact that there is only one party involved with the data that needs to be collected, the patients, but many distinct parties involved in the distribution of that data. Off the top of my head, you have: doctors, hospitals, clinics, payers, EMRs, PHRs, the Government and now mHealth app manufacturers all figuring out how to communicate together, in real time. However, this data distribution issue makes it easy to become distracted from the real value in mHealth:

Actually collecting data from patients.

data collection in mHealth

What’s great about mHealth is the number of ways that data can be collected. When you look at sensors, you have consumable sensors, wearable sensors, stand-alone sensors, and best of all mobile sensors. Data can be collected from here to next Tuesday, but we need to ask ourselves, how great is a data collection system that nobody uses to input their data?  It’s important to design a data collection system that marries a patient’s ability to use the sensor with their interest in actually using it. Ideally, you can design systems that don’t require patient interest in using the sensor, as in consumable sensors. But if you aren’t able to do that, then you have to understand something. Namely, where is the incentive, or more importantly, what job does the sensor do for the patient that THEY want to have done?

Going back to our complicated dance above with data distribution, it’s easy to design and build sensors from the point of view of the party that makes and/or saves the money. Doctors and Payers come to mind. But why does a patient care about making or saving money for their doctor or insurance provider, when they don’t even care to save themselves? That’s right,  less than half of Americans take an active role in managing their own health, today.

Incentives need to be aligned in mHealth in order to unlock the data that we all want.

patient ability AND interest

I would argue that it’s much easier to design a data collection system that patients are able to use, than it is to design a data collection system that patients are interested in using. Pick any near ubiquitous technology: telephone, internet, E-mail, text messaging, and you have a system that most people are able to utilize. Note that I didn’t mention Smartphone applications… [wink wink] The hard part is designing the data collection system that patients are interested in using, but that is also the key to mHealth’s success.

As with any new product or technology, the focus will need to be on finding early adopters for each particular mHealth application. In my opinion, there needs to be a lot more talk about this aspect of mHealth than there is today. What’s great about the Internet is that people have already segmented themselves based on their health conditions and interests. What mHealth product developers need to know is: Which subset of patients desperately need their mHealth solution? How many of those people are there? And, how do they find out about the product?

Looking at the problem this way is quite different from looking at how many people merely exist with the condition, which is fools gold. It is also the first step toward finding real business applications for mHealth solutions.

bite size summary

In short, the value in mHealth is derived from collecting patient data. In order to collect that data, patients must have both the ability and interest to provide it. And what we’re all really focused on at this stage in the game is finding those hundreds to thousands of early adopters, who are probably already online, to get the ball rolling.

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8 Comments »

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